The Slatest

Federal Appeals Court Finds Executive Order Threatening Sanctuary Cities Unconstitutional

Activists with signs and megaphones rally outside the Tennessee state Capitol.
Immigrant families and activists rally outside the Tennessee state Capitol in Nashville on May 31 against HB 2315, a recently passed law that will prohibit sanctuary city policies in the state. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration’s executive order that threatened to withhold funds for sanctuary cities is unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier district judge’s ruling that the president had exceeded his authority, but it removed that judge’s nationwide injunction, ruling that there was not enough evidence of the executive order having an impact on the rest of the country outside California to justify a nationwide injunction, according to the Los Angeles Times. Instead, the appeals court left the injunction intact only in California, where, it ruled, individual counties and the state itself appeared to be more directly targeted by the executive order.

That rationale was based on language Trump and others in his administration used to criticize California’s immigration policies and attitudes and those of individual California cities and counties. The attorneys for the government had unsuccessfully argued that the judge should ignore comments by the president when ruling on the executive order.

Trump issued the executive order just five days after taking office. The order vowed to “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law,” but it was its section making “sanctuary jurisdictions” ineligible to receive federal grants that formed the crux of the constitutional debate.

Trump was following through on campaign promises, and he had in his earlier rhetoric positioned California as his enemy in the immigration debate. The administration has also sued California over other laws passed to protect undocumented immigrants.

In response to his executive order, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties sued the administration. U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick in San Francisco ruled in their favor, finding that the executive order had been too broad and had unconstitutionally placed conditions on federal funding—something only Congress can do. Wednesday’s decision, with a 2–1 ruling, agreed with this assessment.